Asked if the Patriots' Super Bowl victory over the Seahawks is tainted or should be asterisked during a live interview at Salem State University Thursday night, Tom Brady first deflected the question to the pro-Patriots crowd who had come to see him in the previously scheduled appearance at the eastern Massachusetts school.
"Neither do I,'' he said after the audience gave a resounding "No'' through loud booing at the idea. "No. Absolutely not.''
The crowd and Brady may not be the most objective people to answer the question (posed by journalist Jim Gray). But they did voice an opinion, perhaps regionalized, that believes Brady and the Patriots did nothing wrong despite the release Wednesday of Ted Wells' report, which found it was "more likely than not'' that they knowingly and deliberately broke NFL rules regarding the proper inflation of footballs in the AFC Championship Game in January.
The report also characterized some of Brady's answers during the investigation as "not plausible and contradicted by other evidence.''
It was Brady's first public appearance since the report skewered him and his once gleaming reputation. What was supposed to be a leadership seminar at the college quickly turned into an opportunity for Brady to address the report and its assertions.
"I don't have any real reaction,'' Brady said. "Our owner [Robert Kraft] commented on it yesterday and it's only been 30 hours, so I haven't had time to fully digest it . . . There is still a process that is going forth right now and I'm involved in that process. Whenever it happens, it happens, and I'll certainly want to be very comfortable in how I feel about the statements that I make.''
The NFL has offered no time frame for a decision on any discipline following the release of the report.
Brady went on to say that the release of the report hasn't bothered him, nor has the pummeling he's taken from many media outlets.
"Good, bad, indifferent, there are a lot of people who don't like Tom Brady,'' he said. "And I'm OK with that.''
He also said it has "absolutely not'' detracted from the joy of winning his fourth Super Bowl three months ago. "We earned and achieved everything that we got this year as a team,'' he said. "I'm very proud of that and our fans should be, too.''
Brady may not have spoken directly about the report. When he first was asked for his thoughts, someone in the crowd yelled "B.S.!'' and Brady joked, "I can't usually say those things.''
But those who support him have. His father, Tom Brady Sr., called the entire situation "FrameGate'' Wednesday in an interview with USA Today. On Thursday, Brady's agent, Don Yee, issued a statement saying the report "contains significant and tragic flaws'' and "is a significant and terrible disappointment.
"Its omission of key facts and lines of inquiry suggest the investigators reached a conclusion first, and then determined so-called facts later,'' Yee said in his statement.
"One item alone taints this entire report. What does it say about the league office's protocols and ethics when it allows one team to tip it off to an issue prior to a championship game, and no league officials or game officials notified the Patriots of the same issue prior to the game? This suggests it may be more probable than not that the league cooperated with the Colts in perpetrating a sting operation.''
The report noted that the Colts brought their concern about the use of underinflated footballs to the league prior to the AFC Championship Game.
Yee also noted that the Wells report "omitted nearly all of Tom's testimony, most of which was critical because it would have provided this report with the context that it lacks.''